Mass. communities want piece of $3 billion in fed economic aid

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS) – With $3.4 billion in federal money already flowing directly to county and local governments in Massachusetts, municipal leaders and regional planning agencies have now started putting together applications to try to land a piece of $3 billion the U.S. Commerce Department recently made available through a competitive process.

The Economic Development Administration is putting the $3 billion it got under the American Rescue Plan Act to use through a series of programs it is calling Investing in America’s Communities, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo announced last month. The EDA pool of money is intended to put people to work, train others for jobs that are or soon will be in demand, and prepare cities and towns for future disruptions.

“All of us are very focused on applying to the EDA for these funds and having them used to jumpstart critical job creation and workforce training programs throughout Massachusetts, initially focused on the populations that have been hardest hit by COVID,” Marc Draisen, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, said. “That includes populations in some of our big cities like Boston and Cambridge. It also includes Gateway Cities like Lawrence and Springfield. And it also includes some of our rural areas, which may not have seen as much COVID illness but have seen tremendous economic dislocation.”

The EDA will award most of the $3 billion through competitive programs split into six buckets: $1 billion for a “Build Back Better Regional Challenge” that will make a “transformational investment” to accelerate economic recovery in 20 to 30 regions across the country, $500 million in flexible grants for public works and infrastructure projects, $500 million for industry-led workforce training and apprenticeship programs, $750 million to help revitalize the travel, tourism and outdoor recreation industries, $100 million for economic development projects in Tribal governments and Indigenous communities, and $90 million for state and community planning grants.

Raimondo said the program is “the largest local economic development initiative that the Commerce Department has ever made.”

“And the [return on investment] — the ROI is jobs,” the former Rhode Island governor said during a White House press briefing on July 22. “We think we can create, in the short term, hundreds of thousands of jobs, and fundamentally revitalize dozens of communities around America so that, a few years from now, we’ll create 300,000 jobs; 10 years from now, we will have communities that are a beehive of economic activity that, five years ago, were distressed.”

And while the Massachusetts Legislature pauses its hearings on how to put more than $4.8 billion to use over the next several years until after Labor Day, the secretary made clear that the EDA money is intended for more immediate use. “We want to get this money out the door as quickly as possible,” Raimondo said.

Draisen said it is important to get the money into the field quickly and said he is hopeful that the EDA will make funding decisions by the end of the year. Applications for many of the programs are due in October.

MAPC serves as the EDA-designated economic development district for Greater Boston and has started to ask municipalities which fields they think need support and assistance in order to grow jobs, particularly for low-income workers.

“We’re looking at certain sectors where we see growth in the future. And health care is obviously a growth area in Massachusetts, we think it’s going to remain that in the future. We’re trying to help tie people into the health care job network,” Draisen said. “We see a lot more jobs coming in the future, frankly, to help us implement the new climate bill that the Legislature passed a few months ago. It takes people working to build solar facilities and add wind turbines and weatherize homes — all of those things take people working. So we want people to be trained with the skills to fill those jobs.”

While job training and workforce development are points of emphasis in the EDA’s $3 billion program, Draisen said some of the money will be used to pay for construction projects to create more immediate jobs.

“So this isn’t all about planning and training,” he said. “Some of it is actually putting people to work building and renovating things so that there’ll be a strong economic base in that community and places for people to work.”

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